Today is the day when Miracle in Slow Motion by my dear friend Sally Wagter is being released. And that sentence tells you why this isn’t and cannot be a normal book review. Not only did I edit this book – I know this story from the beginning.
Sally and I went to teaching college together way back in the early 1990s, though our friendship was cemented when we found ourselves teaching in the same school – and then in the same yeargroup. She’s a talented teacher with an instinctive feel for the children in her care and not only is she a firm friend, she is also a respected colleague. Himself and I went to her wedding to Erik, and I was thrilled when she told me she was pregnant.
Tim was a beautiful baby – he’s inherited his parents’ good looks. But he cried a lot, suffering badly with colic. And my life changed one night when he was about eight weeks old, Sally turned up on the doorstep, grey-faced with exhaustion. Tim wouldn’t stop crying. So I invited her in and once she handed Tim to me, I was swept with such a deep wave of love for him, it knocked the breath from my lungs. It’s happened a handful of times in my life – when I held my own children, my grandchildren, my nephews and niece. And Tim… I paced up and down our kitchen, crooning nonsense and singing to him, gently jigging him my arms and it wasn’t long before he fell asleep.
I looked after him two days a week from the time he was four months old when Sally had to return to work, until he was three and a half when I had to stop – a decision that broke my heart. So I was right alongside during the terrible time of his autism diagnosis. And what flummoxed me was how little hope was offered for Tim’s future or any possibility that he would be able to lead an independent life. I recall sitting at our kitchen table reading a book I’d got out from the library about what we could expect. I got halfway through, put my head on my arms on the table and howled. How could this be happening? The bonny baby with the sunshine smile and infectious giggle, who loved going out and being sung to – was at two years old increasingly in the throes of screaming panic. Unreachable, he’d run around, howling and afraid – while more and more everyday incidents were triggering this response. And the book I’d turned to, written by experts, offered NOTHING in the way of hope. Worse, the professionals who came in to offer advice and work with Tim, while clearly committed and well-meaning, didn’t treat him with the gentleness a neuro-typical child of his age could expect. He needed firm ground rules, apparently – because ‘these children’ are highly controlling and manipulative…
Sally and Erik didn’t accept the situation and this book charts how they managed to help Tim, so that he is now a charming, empathetic, articulate, and musically talented young man. The fact they are remarkable people, whose love and faith in their son’s potential prevailed against the odds, is a given. Depressingly, though Tim is now eighteen, the situation for parents with children on the autistic spectrum hasn’t improved or progressed all that much since Tim’s initial diagnosis.
Books are often touted as being life-changing, however this one really has the potential to help other despairing parents desperate to help their children, but don’t know where to start. Sally decided to write this book years ago, but it’s taken a long time – because, understandably – she’s been a tad busy running Tim’s education, as well as raising his younger brother. I was honoured to be part of this project as editor and I’m delighted that it is now available here.
BLURB: Miracle in Slow Motion is an inspirational story from despair to miracles, charting a mother’s deeply emotional journey on being confronted with her son’s autism. Refusing to believe the bleak outlook forecast for him, she determined to go all-out in helping him to connect and discover his real self and potential.
Part I charts the journey up to the age of eleven, where his mother started to see hope for his future. By the age of two, he was having daily meltdowns, screaming, running away, and unable to communicate his needs; by four he was diagnosed with a severe speech, language and communication disorder; at eight his school said they could not teach him and his parents should prepare for a future of assisted working. However, at the age of eleven he was talking easily, thinking of others and becoming flexible. He was also building friendships and some of his talents were starting to emerge.
Part II charts the years from eleven to seventeen, where Tim’s social skills, academic achievements and dreams were all brought to fruition. You can find out how we did this by reading the book…
Chapter One – The Beginning
‘I feel a bit bored and in need of an adventure,’ Tim said as he sauntered into the kitchen yesterday morning.
‘Why don’t you get the bus to Worthing and wander around. Are you OK with the bus to get there?’
‘Oh, and can you try to be back by five so you can eat before the party tonight?’
As he left the house I called out, ‘Love you.’
He called back, ‘Love you forever Mum, see you later!’ and he was gone.
But it wasn’t always this way. Tim’s freedom and independence had been a long time coming…
I will begin at the beginning. Erik, my gorgeous Dutch husband, and I met in Holland and after a year and a half of dating, back and forth between countries, he came to live in England and on the day he arrived, I agreed to marry him. We would sit and talk for hours. Going to cafes and putting the world to rights felt like such a special treat with him. He was so easy to talk to and very switched on emotionally, and he seemed to get me just by looking at me. He was an amazing songwriter and a real people person. He fitted straight into my lovely circle of friends and we ended up spending many evenings discussing ‘life, the universe and everything’ around dinner party tables.
He was also funny. His spoken English was amazing but also became a source of amusement between us. On one of his first visits to England, before we were going out, a friend asked where he was staying and Erik called out to them across the pub, ‘I’m sleeping with Steve tonight!’ We all fell about laughing.
At the time, I was teaching full-time in a local school and spent many hours sitting on the floor after a long day, marking work and preparing lessons. My life was full of school concerts, shows, fairs, projects and report-writing. Erik was a social worker and had found a job in a residential school nearby. He worked with children with varying challenges and spent his time playing sport with the children and putting on talent shows in order to raise their self-esteem. We both shared a love of music. I had a music degree and he had spent years in a band and as a worship leader in his church. I was a pianist, while he was a guitar player and singer. Music, for both of us, was our emotional outlet and a huge part of our identity. Little did we know how precious this was and how soon these opportunities would be taken from us.